As we proclaim the good news, remember that it is “good” news and not a set of condemnations and prohibitions. The gospel message is a call to intimacy, to love, to forgive, to embrace, to include, to bring joy, to offer hope, to develop relationships, to offer a path to a meaningful life, to challenge practices that may demean people.
We know that St. Francis read and meditated upon the Word of God until it was integrated into his very being. In body and soul, St. Francis was altered by the Gospel. His identity changed as he became conformed to the likeness of Christ. St. Francis went beyond imitation. He became one with the beloved. Francis proved that the Gospel could be lived. It was a process for him. It continues to be a process for us. It is what our Rule calls ongoing conversion. If we wish to be changed in the process, we must become one with the Lord.
As Franciscans, it is not so important what we offer, but rather the willingness to offer whatever opportunity to serve that God chooses to give us. We are all given a particular station in life which best enables us to fulfill God’s will. It is within this context of our individual circumstances that we are asked to faithfully execute our duties. The method by which we are to serve is given to us quite simply in the gospel. If We are to progress “from Gospel to Life,” we must heed these Words: “Love one another as I have loved you,” (Jn 13:14) Everything we do in the Church, our homes, the market place, the fields and in our communities must exemplify his love.
~ Karol Morton, OFS, Called to Make Present the Charism (SFO Resource Library)
Until and unless Christ is someone happening between people, the Gospel remains largely an abstraction. Until he is passed on personally through faithfulness and forgiveness, through bonds of union, I doubt whether he is passed on at all.
While Clare and her religious sisters were still subject to the confines of the monastic cloister, Francis and his religious brothers moved beyond the walls of a monastery, rectory, or cathedral house—the typical locations of male religious life up to that time. Francis saw Jesus’ personal model and his instructions in the Gospel as an example for an itinerant lifestyle that involved popular preaching, daily work, communal prayer, and encounter with women and men of all backgrounds and in all locations. It was both freeing and risky.
The real way to be biblical and to respect biblical authority is to do what biblical people did, and in the way that they did it. It is not to quote biblical sources or uncover the deep and secret meanings of biblical texts. The authority of words, even inspired words, must somehow be based in the de facto authority of accomplished deeds, redeemed peoples, and living bodies. In other words, it has to have worked somewhere, sometime, with someone, or it is an idealized abstraction. I find that a great many people who put themselves under the cope of religion are, in fact, people who enjoy ideology and abstraction as an escape from real commitment and real conversion.
The Gospels aren’t social work. They’re not about shaping ourselves and the people around us up into people who “deserve.” They’re not about an “effective” use of our money, energy, and hearts. They’re about one human being having compassion for another. They’re about love.
Francis sends us to the gospel, which is, at the same time, both beginning and end. But, in a certain sense, the gospel also points to Francis, who shows us how to live the gospel with simplicity of heart and integrity of faith. And we Franciscans must, live the gospel; all that we are and do must be informed by the gospel, without limiting ourselves to a “careful reading” or intellectual contemplation.
His (St. Francis) vocabulary is essentially biblical. He is obliged to repeat the very words of the Bible. When greeting people, he does not say “Good morning” or “Good evening,” but “The Lord give you His peace.” When blessing Brother Leo, he does not invent a formula, but adopts the blessing that God commanded Aaron and his sons to say over the people of Israel.” When he sends a brother on mission, he does not say “Have trust,” but uses a verse from the Psalms: “Cast your care upon the Lord and He will care for you.” His use of the Bible in his writings does not take the form of explicit quotations. Yet, entire passages from Sacred Scripture enter spontaneously and directly into his writing, even though he does not use formulas such as “Thus says ‘the Lord” or “As it is Written.” He simply makes the language of the Bible his own.
Evangelical life focuses on what we are, not what we do. The goal of the life is to be a sister or brother to all, announcing the Good News in one’s example and deeds.